Pundits see Covid-19 economics as key to winning snap polls

Azril Annuar And Danial Dzulkifly
Hoo said the Opposition could swing support to its side by reaching out to the business community, while Covid-19 economics could also prove to be the ruling Perikatan Nasional pact’s trump card. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, June 28 — Malaysia’s economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the government’s lockdown orders will be useful campaign fodder for the Opposition Pakatan Plus if general elections are called early, political analysts said, but warned of pitfalls if applied wrongly.

Independent political analyst Hoo Ke Ping said the Opposition could swing support to its side by reaching out to the business community, especially small and medium enterprises, who are among some of those most adversely affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the various iterations of the movement control orders (MCO) since March 18.

“At the moment, they could focus on the economic impact of Covid-19. At the moment, with the economic slowdown, we could see up to 50,000 SMEs either drastically affected or simply closed down,” Hoo told Malay Mail.

But he also said Covid-19 economics could prove to be the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact’s trump card.

“More than a million jobs are at risk. It’s a platform any party can leverage on and that is why Perikatan Nasional is pushing hard to ramp up the economy and in turn secure their base as well,” he added.

A Covid-19 impact survey by online recruitment giant JobStreet released this week showed nine out of 10 Malaysian workers hit by the coronavirus and MCO — which indicates the large number of voters who would be very interested in future economic recovery policies.

Senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun gave a similar assessment.

He said many voters will be expecting handouts to ride out the financial doldrums, pointing out that the government of the day holds the upper hand.

He added that parties like Umno and its offshoot Bersatu have leaders with years of experience in dishing out such incentives to entice voters.

“So, they would have to compete on economically-oriented platforms, to see which side can come up with better solutions to revive the economy.

“But frankly, at this point in Malaysia’s socio-economic developmental stage, many voters would look specifically to more government handouts, and the expertise in promising and delivering such largesse lies with Umno and its cohorts,” Oh told Malay Mail.

He added that Pakatan and the other Opposition groups “would not score well electorally as such”.

Should Pakatan face such competition, Oh thinks the pact may fall back on to its old playbook in which it accuses its political adversaries of abusing its power. He also said the parties banking on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s pull with conservative voters to swing the tide may face “limited appeal”.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Azmi Hasan said the Opposition has a bigger issue to contend with before it can focus on its election strategy.

He said that before seeking to convince the public that its Covid-19 economic recovery policies had a better chance, the Opposition needs to present a united front and clear cut decision on their choice of designated leader.

“The first thing they need to put forward is who is their designated prime minister between Dr Mahathir and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“The people are quite confused now with this prime minister issue. If it is not resolved, then Pakatan will be entering GE with a huge handicap,” Azmi told Malay Mail.

He said Pakatan Plus will have a much stronger case to get voters to give it another chance after settling on its prime ministerial candidate.

The analysts were asked their views before an announcement late yesterday threw up a third option for prime minister — Warisan president and Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.

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